Defining civil liberties
Civil liberties are rights and freedoms given to residents and citizens of a country through the country’s legal system. Such rights are the freedom of speech, the freedom of movement, and the freedom of assembly. Civil liberties are protected in most democratic countries. They are sometimes formally guaranteed in the constitutions of authoritarian countries but may be ignored in practice.
Are civil liberties and human rights the same thing?
Human rights are considered to be universal and apply to every person, whereas civil liberties are recognised by a particular country. The two often converge, but different civil liberties are recognised to different degrees in different countries and can be altered in times of crisis. Civil rights also differ from civil liberties, in that civil rights concern the right to be free from unequal treatment based on certain protected characteristics such as gender and race.
The difference between civil liberties and human rights has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. People’s human rights have not changed during the pandemic. However, civil liberties such as freedom of movement and freedom of assembly have been restricted at times due to the pandemic. This is because policymakers had to balance safeguarding civil liberties with public
Some examples of civil liberties and why they are important
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is the right to seek, receive, and share information and ideas. On some occasions, restricting the freedom of speech can be justified. For example, the government can ban hate speech or speech that incites violence. This could happen if someone’s speech encouraged hatred or violence against a minority group. However, freedom of speech is valuable because it allows people to benefit from new ideas, stay informed, and hold governments accountable for their decisions and their policies.
Freedom of Movement
Freedom of movement is the basic freedom to move within your own country and to exit any country—including your own. Freedom of movement has been affected by the pandemic. For example, having to quarantine at home has resulted in issues of domestic abuse, because it has been harder for victims to escape domestic violence. Migrants fleeing danger in their home countries have also faced harsher restrictions during the pandemic. Freedom of movement is important because it allows people to live and work where they want and to build a better life.
Freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly is the right to peacefully gather together for any purpose without interference, for instance, from the police—although action can be taken if a gathering becomes violent. Freedom of assembly allows the public to express its views to its leaders and other members of society. It also promotes public debate and can help achieve social change. Freedom of assembly has sometimes been restricted during the pandemic to protect public health.
Overall, civil liberties allow citizens with different views to participate in politics, and to make sure political decisions by the people in power take their interests and ideas into account. Because of the pandemic, some civil liberties have been restricted but, our human rights remain unchanged.